A small group of us, all involved in wine in one way or another, recently got to chatting about wine labels, their accuracy of information and where they should fit into a list, be it a wine list or a general list of wines by variety/style.
Just to get the legalities out of the way, a wine that is labelled varietally, eg chenin blanc or shiraz, indicates that at least 85% of the wine in the bottle is of that variety; this is true on both the local and international markets. It’s unlikely in the normal course of things that the other 15% or whatever amount up to that, will be specified.
And, of course, unless the wine is declared to come from a single vineyard, it might come from different Wines of Origin (this has to be reflected in the WO on the label; locally each one may be listed, but internationally only one is acceptable, so rather than mess about with the cost of different labels for the local and international markets, the one which satisfies the international market is used) or even different vineyards within a single Wine of Origin, whether it’s 100% of the variety on the label or contains up to 15% of something else.
The point of going into this detail is that the wine label should reflect the winemaker’s intention for what’s in the bottle. Take, for instance, the Mullineux’s Syrah WO Swartland. The term ‘syrah’ rather than ‘shiraz’ indicates a more traditional, European style rather than that associated generally with Australia. WO Swartland has connotations of warmth of flavour though not necessarily high alcohol. So far so good, but one has to go to the website to discover the Mullineux’s further goals with this wine: ‘Our aim with our Syrah is to give true and complete expression to the Shale & Schist and Granite terroirs in which the vines grow.’ Information given on the website; a pity it isn’t reflected on the label.
Still, their label, which should obviously be listed under Syrah/Shiraz (or vice versa), reveals is a more than Eben Sadie’s Palladius and Columella, where their Swartland origin remains the sole information given. To delve further as to which variety/ies goes/go into these wines requires asking the wine merchant who stocks the wine – ‘stocks’ perhaps not quite the right word, as much is on allocation so flies out even before coming in – or dropping the Sadies themselves a line. But with this pair it is more the style that matters than the make-up. Still, both fit most comfortably under White or Red Blends (or Shiraz-based Blends) respectively. There is vintage variation – how boring and incurious a winemaker would be not to reflect the vintage in his/her wine – but there’s also ongoing evolution in each. For those who don’t know, chenin plays an important role in Palladius and syrah in Columella.
At the other side of the label information story is a wine such as La Motte Syrah-Viognier 2014 (R230 ex-cellar), that’s 95% syrah with just 5% viognier, but as the label would suggest that 5% is a very important component towards the style. It may be modelled on the wines of the Côte Rôtie in the Northern Rhône (where many producers are actually discontinuing with the use of viognier) but the different origins are influential in the final wine. Just over half the syrah comes from cool climate Elim, with Walker Bay and a little Franschhoek fruit making up the balance. All the viognier comes from home WO, Franschhoek and some of these grapes are included with each picking of the syrah from whichever vineyard.
The label is no affectation (as I sometimes find the SMVs, SMGs or GSMs, which look good on the label and that’s about all!), the viognier really does lift the expressive aromatics, fresh spice, herbs with a suggestion of blossom. Full of flavour, the structure with its tiny, fresh tannins, does indicate the wine will benefit from ageing. We did all agree this would fit in to Red blends or Shiraz-blends on a list.
At the same time as Tim James and I tasted this wine, we also tried La Motte’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (which includes a not immediately obvious 11% cabernet franc – I must try it again! – and costs a good value R115 ex-cellar). Very much in the classic mode, more vinous than fruity, I subsequently drank it over six or seven evenings; it was still going strong as the last drop was drained from my glass. A wine that very much belongs under Cabernet Sauvignon and not just because of the label.